I've already gone to lengths complaining that this alternate logo Florida unveiled this past year was a blatant ripoff of the Quinnipiac Bobcats so I won't do it again. Instead I offer my congratulations to the organization for the upgrade because it's better than what the team wears on a regular basis.
1st Pick Last Year: Dmitri Kulikov (14th overall) – Most pundits pegged Kulikov as a top-10 prospect in the Class of 2009 but some pre-draft rumours had the defenceman headed back to Russia and that scared some teams off. The Panthers either had good intelligence on the matter or simply couldn’t pass on the talent, in the end it’s worked out pretty well for them. Kulikov finished 8th in rookie scoring among blueliners and looked comfortable for much of the year. (Photo: Richard Heathcoat Getty Images)
The Good: Jacob Markstrom (31st overall, 2008) – He has yet to play a game in the NHL but Markstrom is considered by most as the the top netminder outside of the league. He recently signed on with the Panthers meaning fans should get to see him next season. The big goalie impressed early at the last two World Junior Championships but faltered at crunch time and that’s a concern.
The Bad: Kenndal McArdle (20th overall, 2005) – A feel good story that so far hasn’t had a happy ending. Hailing from a poor, single parent background and overcoming a speech impediment in order to play professional hockey, McArdle has everyone in his corner hoping he succeeds. So far he has appeared in just 22 games with Florida and has 3 points. His minor league career has been peppered with injury.
The Unknown: Keaton Ellerby (10th overall, 2007) – There are lofty expectations that come with being a top-10 draft pick and so far Ellerby hasn’t met them. He’s only played two pro seasons and has dressed in the NHL 22 times but has yet to record his first big league point. On the farm the Alberta native has been able to produce so the hope is that he’s more of a late bloomer than perhaps expected on draft day 2007.
Coming Down the Pipe: Unquestionably the deepest part of Florida's prospect pool is in net featuring Jacob Markstrom and Denver Pioneers alum Marc Cheverie. Free agent signee Alex Salak (above) was impressive in his North American debut with the Rochester Americans holding a .910 SV% and 2.89 GAA. Ellerby, Colby Robak and Adam Comrie highlight the defencemen in the system and Drew Shore and Michael Repik share the spotlight from the forward group. (Photo: Rochester Americans)
Draft Trends: The only QMJHL player chosen by Florida over the last 4 years has been Russian Dmitri Kulikov, no French-Canadians. The team doesn’t seem to get caught up with picking by position – Only one defenceman taken in 2009 and only one forward taken in 2008 suggest best player available is followed closely.
2010 Prediction 3rd overall:
Dean Millard: Erik Gudbranson (Kingston) - Gudbranson dealt with mono this year and was forced to watch the Top Prospect game in a suit from the bench. However, once he got back to playing, he made NHL scouts take notice and played well enough to jump up the rankings. After the Panthers took flashy Russian blueliner Dmitri Kulikov last year, they go for size and strength this time around.
Guy Flaming: Cam Fowler (Windsor) – He was the top-ranked defenceman for most of the year and ended the OHL season as a point per game player having scored 55 points in as many contests. Fowler added 14 more points in the OHL playoffs and led all blueliners at the Memorial Cup with 6 points. The 6’2, 190 lb Michigan native can play any role and will compliment a variety of defensive partners making him very versatile. Fowler also won gold at the 2010 World Junior Championship in Saskatoon with USA.